Taxpayer Grants to Planned Parenthood Said to be Illegal

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - An abstinence education specialist with one of the nation's largest pro-family organizations has alleged that a Planned Parenthood affiliate's use of taxpayer funded grants to recruit new customers was a violation of federal law.

Jerry Gramckow, Abstinence Education editor at Focus on the Family, told the law is clear on the use of federal teen pregnancy prevention money.

"It sounds as though it is money funded through Title V," Gramckow explained, referring to Title V of the Welfare Reform Act. "The issue is how did Congress intend this money to be spent when it was allocated, and the clear intent in the 'A-H Guidelines' of Title V requires that these programs teach abstinence-only until marriage."

The restrictions on sex education funding are referred to as the "A-H Guidelines" because there are eight items in that particular section of the U.S. Code, identified by the letters A though H.

As previously reported, Planned Parenthood of North Central Ohio (PPNCO) applied for and received $5,145 in taxpayer funds for fiscal year 2002-2003 from the "Wellness Program Committee" of the Morrow County [Ohio] Job and Family Services (JFS). That agency oversees distribution of the federal block grants and state matching funds from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program according to guidelines established by the Ohio legislature. TANF funding of sex education is covered by the Title V "Maternal and Child Health Services" block grant program.

The Wellness Program Committee made four grants for sex education programs, totaling $15,923. The PPNCO grant was 32.3 percent of the committee's total budget for that subject. None of the four grants were for abstinence-only education according to documents obtained by .

PPNCO sought its grant to pay eight "teen outreach workers" to recruit new customers from among their peers. Under the proposal, teens selected from Morrow County schools would be paid $100 to complete "outreach" training, and $5 for each new customer, up to 20, referred to Planned Parenthood's abortion clinic in Cardington, Ohio.

Federal Law Mandates Abstinence-Only Education

But the federal statute to which Gramckow referred states that any teen sex education program funded with Title V money must have "as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity," and must teach "abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school age children."

As also previously reported, the Abstinence and Absolutes Association (A&A) , a non-profit group that meets the Title V rules, filed a formal discrimination complaint with the Wellness Program Committee. In its complaint, A&A argued that the committee is biased against abstinence-only education.

Cynthia Torppa, the coordinator for the committee, rejected that claim.

"I don't think that the people on the committee have a vested interest in one type of program versus another," Torppa told Friday. "The objective of the program is to prevent teen pregnancy and I think the committee wants to do what social science shows will be effective in doing that."

Torppa explained that the committee uses a set of objective criteria, including a cost benefit analysis, to determine which grant applications will and will not be funded. Those criteria include the likelihood of success in achieving the program goals.

"All of those things were put in place to prevent bias so that every single application that comes in is looked at using the same criteria, using the same numeric calculations, and judged against social science research," Torppa added. "I think we've done our best to eliminate bias."

Donald Wake, director of Morrow County JFS, confirmed that one particular study of teen pregnancy prevention programs was used by the committee.

"They utilized a scientific study that was done, the title of that is 'Emerging Answers' by Douglas Kirby, Ph.D.," Wake said. "They tried to base some of their decisions based on some good solid research. What are we going to do here that we think is going to work?"

Abstinence Expert Questions 'Research' Used by Agency

Gramckow is familiar with the research used by the committee.

"Probably the most highly cited research, if you want to call it that ... is something called 'Emerging Answers' by Dr. Douglas Kirby," Gramckow said prior to being told that the committee had used that document. "There are some real problems with that research."

"First of all, it refers to dozens and dozens of programs, and only found eight that it called successful," Gramckow noted. "Two of those are Douglas Kirby's own programs and his group, ETR, markets most of the others that they found to be successful."

Kirby found only three abstinence-only programs in the country that met his criteria, which specified that, among other things, a program must have had a sample size of at least 100 in the combined treatment and control group; and must have measured impact on sexual or contraceptive behavior, pregnancy, or childbearing.

"The primary conclusion that can be drawn from these three studies is that the evidence is not conclusive about abstinence-only programs," Kirby wrote.

"It's necessary to cherry-pick to get that kind of a response," Gramckow said. "The best research is still underway. A group called Mathematica has a grant to study abstinence programs and the results of that should be out the middle of this coming year."

Despite A&A's complaint against the Wellness Program Committee, Wake doubts bias against abstinence-only education is the reason the group was not funded.

"I think there's strong sentiment for that approach among many of the committee members," Wake declared. "I think the concern with any of us is, you know, the message of abstinence is great, but there are still going to be a certain number of youth out there who are not going to abstain. How are we going to prevent pregnancy for that group?"

Gramckow said Congress clearly did not give Morrow County JFS, the Wellness Program Committee, or any other entity the flexibility to ask that question.

"It is supposed to be biased. It is written with a bias," Gramckow said of all programs funded in whole or in part by Title V funds. "These programs are meant to teach abstinence-only until marriage, and if they're not doing it, then really they're violating the intent of the law."

Abstinence Expert Says Planned Parenthood Knows Restrictions

Gramckow said he had no way of knowing whether the local officials in Ohio knew of the abstinence-only restrictions, but added that he believes Planned Parenthood officials are well aware of the law.

At a grant applications training session for federal Special Programs of Regional and National Significance (SPRANS) he attended last week, Gramckow confirmed Planned Parenthood's strategy.

"The government people who were there to present the training stated more than once that these monies are intended for abstinence-only education," Gramckow recalled. "At lunchtime, they had us all introduce ourselves and, lo and behold, one of the attendees was from Planned Parenthood of El Paso, Texas; there to get this money for abstinence-only education, which they have said on many occasions that they hate."

Wake told that his local agency had not been informed of the abstinence-only restrictions on TANF and other Title V funding.

"I'm not aware of that," Wake said. "Apparently our state offices are not aware of that."

A message left with the Ohio State Job and Family Services office requesting comment on this story yielded no return call prior to the filing of this story for publication. Calls to Planned Parenthood's national headquarters were not returned.

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.